Flat tummy tips

If you're fed up with having a spare tyre around your middle, here are some tips for getting a flat stomach...

Flat stomach

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Lose weight
If you're carrying excess weight around your middle it's especially important to achieve a healthy weight to lower your risk of diabetes.

Of course, what food you eat is a major factor when it comes to losing weight - but the good news is that a few small changes can make a big difference.

The first thing to consider is portion size - start weighing out your meals and learn what a healthy portion looks like. If you eat a high number of carbs (rice, pasta, bread), try cutting down and replacing them with more protein, such as chicken, turkey and lentils and fill your plate up with plenty of fresh vegetables.

Refined white pasta, bread and rice can leave you feeling bloated - and make your tummy feel and look even bigger - so switch to brown and wholegrain varieties.

Improve your digestion
Bloating is an indicator you are not digesting your food properly. To improve digestion, try eating more fibre and make sure you're drinking plenty of water. Eat at regular intervals - several small meals a day are better than a few large ones and will help keep your blood sugar levels steady, as well as helping your digestion.

When you do eat, make sure you sit down without distraction (no eating in front of the TV!), take your time and chew slowly.

Avoid the bloat
Some foods and drinks are best avoided if you want to avoid the bloat. Salt is one of them.Water is attracted to salt, so when you take in higher than usual amounts (whether added to food or in processed meals), you'll retain more fluid, which results in sluggishness and bloating.

Some foods, such as beans, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and onions, naturally create more gas in your GI tract and are best avoided if wind and bloating is a problem for you.

Sugar substitutes found in low-calorie sweetners are best avoided as your GI tract can't absorb most of them. While that may be good news for your overall calorie intake, it's bad news for your belly which suffers with gas, abdominal distention and bloating.

Take-aways and fatty foods are definitely off the menu. Fatty foods are digested more slowly, causing you to feel heavy and bloated while spicy foods stimulate the release of stomach acid, which can cause irritation.

When it comes to drinks, avoid anything carbonated, along with alcohol, coffee, tea, hot cocoa, and acidic fruit juices.

Finally, if you want to avoid the bloat, don't chew gum. When you chew you swallow air, which gets trapped in your GI tract and can cause belly expansion.

Whatever muscles you have won't be visible because of the fat, so shifting it is essential if you want a flat stomach! Make sure you do enough aerobic activity to burn fat - aim to do 40 minutes of aerobic exercise three times a week. Anything that gets your heart rate up will do - swimming, walking the dog, cycling, playing netball, dancing around the house. If you can manage 40 minutes of exercise your body will start to draw its energy from fat reserves.

Exercises that work your core muscle group will help strengthen and flatten the stomach. Pilates is a great option, and will help strengthen your back and improve your posture. Look for a class near you, or alternatively buy a Pilates DVD.

The Wii Fit can make your workout a lot more fun and you have the advantage of being at home. There are plenty of fitness programmes including yoga, step aerobics, Pilates and snowboarding. Regular exercise has the added benefit of helping to improve posture and assisting with digestion and absorption.

Don't stress
The stomach is the central receptor of our mental state. Emotional shock, depression and stress can result in bloating and problems with bowel movements. Many people find that breathing deeply helps. Try following an introductory yoga course (again look for a DVD if you can't get to a lesson) to learn abdominal breathing.

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